Authors:Dr Jo Wilding
Last updated:2023-09-18
A ‘no-brainer’: fund immigration legal advice and save costs elsewhere
Marc Bloomfield
Description: It's a no-brainer May 2023 report cover
‘It’s a no-brainer’: local authority funding for immigration legal advice in the UK, a new report published on 5 May 2023 by Justice Together, looks at the extent and nature of local and devolved government funding for immigration legal advice across the UK, reflecting some of the ways in which the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 shifted costs onto other public bodies.
The report’s title came from an official in a local authority, referring to the financial, social and public health benefits of commissioning immigration legal advice. The financial benefit is not the most important reason why people should have access to legal advice, but it may well be the most persuasive for local authorities facing costly statutory duties in the context of relentless cuts to their budgets and a lack of legal aid for immigration advice. The savings for local authorities come from obtaining legal immigration status (and the right to work) or a change of visa conditions for people who have no access to public funds.
Given that the support costs an average of £17,151 per year for a household with minor children, £18,401 for an adult with care needs, and £21,541 for a care leaver without immigration status (see page 19 of the report), it is easy to see how commissioning a legal advice service would generate savings for many local authorities. For local authorities that anticipate lower levels of need within their own area, or that don’t have an advice partner available locally, a shared or sub-regional approach with neighbouring authorities can help to reduce costs and manage fluctuating demand.
It is not only local authorities that face the knock-on costs of the lack of legal advice, but also hospitals. When a person has no recourse to public funds, they may be unable to be discharged from hospital. Several of the commissioning models for specialist social welfare advice explored in the report are either solely or jointly funded by public health budgets or form part of a public health strategy.
The report sets out a typology of funding schemes, based on Freedom of Information data:
type 1 is ad hoc funding, or ‘spot purchases’ of advice in specific cases where the local authority has a statutory duty to provide support;
type 2 is target group-focused funding, where a scheme covers a specific client group such as rough sleepers, resettled refugees, hospital patients or families with no recourse to public funds;
type 3 is provider-focused funding, where the local authority gives core funding to a specialist provider like a Law Centre or a generalist provider with some level of immigration advice included;
type 4 is in-house provision, either with an in-house solicitor shared between authorities within a region or an accredited caseworker within a local authority providing advice directly to members of the public, on referral from the council’s own teams; and
type 5 is a strategic model, where immigration and other advice is included in a public health or anti-poverty strategy.
There are examples and case studies of types 2–5 in the report, including practical tips and advice from existing local authority commissioners and advice partners.
All this said, paying for legal advice should, very clearly, be the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, not local authorities or public health and housing departments. Commissioning schemes could usefully collect data to demonstrate to central government the cost-shifting effects of legal aid cuts and low legal aid fees, to support that argument.